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Forget these ‘red herrings,’ oil is heading higher: RBC's Croft

Crude's recent brush with levels close to $40 per barrel has made a lot of energy watchers nervous, but a top market analyst believes that international events will conspire to send oil prices sharply higher over the next several months.

Helima Croft, the global head of commodities strategy at RBC Capital Markets, identified supply talk surrounding Libya and Nigeria as two "bearish red herrings" for the oil market. Instability in both countries has sharply curtailed production in both OPEC member states, with Nigerian supply cut in half as militants target the country's pipelines.

"Right now there is kind of this fear that we could get 900,000 additional barrels [per day] out of Libya, the head of the national company said that by year-end," Croft said last week on CNBC's "Futures Now."

Meanwhile, "there's this view that because Nigeria [has] resumed these amnesty payments, it's going to bounce back as well [with] 400,000, 500,000 barrels," she added, referring to funds the country is providing to militants in order to halt attacks on Nigeria's oil arteries.

Nevertheless, "we just think those producers are going to remain distressed," Croft said, meaning that global oil supplies will likely remain crimped, putting upward pressure on prices.

'Bearish red herring'

Libya, in particular, is a focal point for Croft. The country's political instability leads Croft to believe that the North African country will be unable to ramp up its oil production.

"If we were to see a swing of 600,000 or 700,000 barrels of light, sweet Libyan crude hitting the market, that would undoubtedly be a negative, bearish [and] that would definitely drag us lower," she said. "Maybe they pop up 100,000, [but] we just don't see them back in that type of volume. So we think that's a bearish red herring that you can discount."

Her forecast about global supplies leads Croft to believe that crude could recover to $50 or just above by the year's end. However, on the demand side, much is riding on how summer's gasoline glut plays out. Croft sees that as a major drag on global energy prices.

"The gasoline glut was the catalyst for this latest move lower," she said. "[We] look at the refinery run test, we look at maintenance season [and] that's near-term bearish for crude. We think you have to clear out gasoline first."

But if those high inventory levels can be cleared out, Croft sees oil rising as high $70 per barrel. However, that is a "2017 story," according to her, as dynamics in the oil market remain bearish in the short term.

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